There’s a sinful number of things to keep one busy in Ellicottville beyond skiing
How impressive are many of the stone and timber-faced private homes in Ellicottville, New York? Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brian McFadden tells the story of a friend who skied down a mountain run and walked into the chalet to use the facilities, only to discover that it was actually a private residence—21 Greerhill Rd. to be precise.
A toll-free, one-tank-of-gas round trip from our Oakville home, this is a special destination, to be sure. Nestled in the foothills of New York’s Allegheny Mountains, Ellicottville’s public ski resort mecca of Holiday Valley offers guests 13 lifts and 58 runs. There’s also HoliMont, the largest private ski club in North America by membership.
But McFadden is ebullient over what now occurs after the snow melts. Working with Longwoods, an international research and branding firm with major clients from Colorado to Hawaii, McFadden has been the point man in altering the business philosophy of this historic little Western New York town. Quaint shops that once shuttered come spring now operate year round, while a host of festivals have been introduced to the summertime calendar. A group of retired women known as the Alleycats maintain all the hanging baskets throughout the town, the historical district of which has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Another summertime lure is the Ellicottville Brewing Company, whether you’re touring the German-built brewing operation, dining on the patio or sampling the extensive hop recipes at the 120-year-old bar (try the Stainless Steel Obsession IPA!). There’s also sampling at the Winery of Ellicottville nearby.
Of course, everything is nearby in the compact town of EVL, as it’s known by its compacted form. Or maybe the moniker is a nod to those misbehaving at the electric Balloons Restaurant & Night Club, where dancers were spilling into the streets the early June Friday night we dropped in.
There’s a country-blues music feel to the place, my wife Mary and I surmised as we drained $5 drafts at the Gin Mill, where a sign mounted on the busy wall behind the bar read: “Today is the yesterday you will be embarrassed about tomorrow.”
Across the street at the health-conscious Dina’s restaurant, the stone walls downstairs, which house a private dining table and wine cellar, date to the 1840s. The town itself was first settled 200 years ago, and there hasn’t been much messing with the culture since. In fact, just a couple years after opening, the Burger King at the end of the street from our hotel closed last May. Big chains simply don’t fit in in these parts.
That said, some recent changes have been for the better, and have made EVL into a warm-weather hot spot. Holiday Valley, the energetic, multi-purpose resort complex 2.5 kms down the road from the town core, includes 102 rooms at the Inn at Holiday Valley, and another 138 units at the newer Tamarack Club next door. One of the top adventure destinations in the U.S., it links up with 60 kms of mountain biking trails, and includes horseback and chuckwagon rides.
Louisville Slugger made all its ash bats in this longtime lumber town until 2009, but now the leaves are rustling in the hills of the western end of Holiday Valley for another reason, with shapes of varying sizes climbing and swinging through the forest like a scene out of Planet of the Apes. Sky High Adventure Park, which opened in 2011, features a series of platforms with rope, wood and wire bridges and ladders, as well as a host of zip lines, the challenge of which is to figure out how to get across to the next platform. There are 13 courses with varying levels of difficulty. And while there’s an orientation session and everyone wears a harness with a special locking lanyard that safeguards you from falling if you slip, I highly recommend newcomers stick to the basic level—which is challenging enough—their first time out. Children must be at least 7, and all guests must be able to perform certain physical tasks to participate.
Another highlight is the Sky Fly Mountain Coaster, where riders can control the speed of their personal coasters as they slalom down a slick mountain run. Covering a total distance of nearly 1.5 kilometres, the $8 ride includes a slow climb that gradually ascends 283 vertical feet before plunging back down the mountain.
The park added a Climbing Forest in 2013—10 trees with colour-coded climbing holds and difficulty ranges, with each climber provided a harness that clips into an auto-belay system. Those seeking a more leisurely tour of the surrounding landscape might want to partake in scenic gondola rides in the fall.
There has also been a marvellous transformation of Holiday Valley’s Double Black Diamond Golf Course, which was nominated for Best Redesign in 2009 by Golf Course magazine after architect Paul Albanese rid the layout of a number of quirky holes and in its place left a fairly memorable routing.
Boasting Monday-through-Thursday rates of a paltry $35—and $47 on weekends—the well-manicured course measures a shade under 6,500 yards from the tips. Forward tees will bring trouble into play off many tees, so the 6,000 Black tees should suffice for most players.
A relatively level but well-treed front nine must be negotiated around a series of ponds and streams, one of the best holes being the par-3 ninth, which yields a very Scottish flavour, thanks to a rocky stream that cuts diagonally in front of the green and three sod-walled bunkers beyond.
Photo-ops, however, abound on the back side as the course climbs into the hills, beginning with the short par-3 10th from an elevated tee to a scenic, well-bunkered green site. Now it’s time to hold on to whatever decent score you’ve managed thus far, as E’ville corner lurks—a terrific, albeit challenging trio of holes that can also back up traffic. After a painfully slow front nine, we found 11 golfers between tee and green at No. 11—a spectacular short, dogleg-left par-4 that requires a long-iron or hybrid to be threated down a hallway-tight, tree-lined fairway, before a downhill, forced-carry approach over a creek and ravine.
After the par-3 12th, where balls will tumble into the woods if you miss left, E’ville corner concludes with the long par-4 13th, with its double fairway and bunkers sandwiching the front and back of the putting surface.
Alas, the comforting site of Holiday Valley’s three-pool outdoor swim complex always awaits. And after more than five sunny hours on the golf course, all the obstacles in Sky High Adventure Park couldn’t have kept us from that final destination.
Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce: Ellicottvilleny.com
Holiday Valley Resort: Holidayvalley.com
Ellicottville Brewing Company: Ellicottvillebrewing.com